Astronomers discover oldest star yet found in the universe

Feb. 10, 2014 at 2:05 PM
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ACTON, Australia, Feb. 10 (UPI) -- A team led by Australian astronomers reports it found the oldest known star in the universe, which formed shortly after the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago.

The discovery has allowed the first opportunity to study the chemistry of the first stars, giving scientists a clearer idea of what the universe was like in its infancy, the Australian National University reported Sunday.

The star, 6,000 light years from Earth, was discovered using the university's SkyMapper telescope at the Siding Spring Observatory, searching for ancient stars as part of a five-year project to produce the first digital map the southern sky.

"This is the first time that we've been able to unambiguously say that we've found the chemical fingerprint of a first star," lead researcher Stefan Keller of the university's Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics said.

"This is one of the first steps in understanding what those first stars were like," he said. "What this star has enabled us to do is record the fingerprint of those first stars."

The composition of the newly discovered star shows it formed in the wake of a primordial star, which had a mass 60 times that of our sun, Keller said.

"To make a star like our sun, you take the basic ingredients of hydrogen and helium from the Big Bang and add an enormous amount of iron -- the equivalent of about 1,000 times the Earth's mass," he said.

"To make this ancient star, you need no more than an Australia-sized asteroid of iron and lots of carbon. It's a very different recipe that tells us a lot about the nature of the first stars and how they died."

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